Tibetan Tea Culture

Butter tea, also known as po cha, is a drink of the Tibetans and Chinese minorities in southwestern China.  It’s also consumed in Bhutan.

Po-cha is a hearty brew of tealeaves, yak butter, and salt.  The tea used comes from Chinese brick-tea or pu-erh tea. The leaves are boiled for several hours, after which the infusion is poured into a section of hollow bamboTibetan Teao, where it is churned up with a plunger, together with a handful of salt, a pinch of soda, and a lump of yak butter.  In some areas roasted barley flour, or what’s called tasmpa, is occasionally added to this mix.

Drinking butter tea is a regular part of Tibetan life.  Before work, a Tibetan will typically consume several bowlfuls of this tangy beverage, and it is always served to guests, often accompanied by dried apricots, sweets, and biscuits.  Nomads are said to often drink up to 40 cups of it a day. Since butter is the main ingredient and is very warming, it provides lots of energy and is particularly suited to high altitudes.  The butter also helps to prevent chapped lips.

According to the Tibetan custom, butter tea is drunk in separate sips, and after each sip the host refills the bowl to the brim. Thus, the guest never drains his bowl; rather, it is constantly topped up. If the visitor does not wish to drink, the best thing to do is leave the tea untouched until the time comes to leave and then drain the bowl. In this way etiquette is observed and the host will not be offended.